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2018 NFL Draft grades: Cardinals, Ravens hit it big with QB picks

Beginning and ending with a Heisman Trophy winner, teams made moves at the league’s most important position.

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2018 NFL Draft, it was all about the quarterbacks and where they would land. Coming out of the first round, it was still about the quarterbacks. For the first time ever four of the first 10 picks in the draft were quarterbacks. For the third time ever, five quarterbacks were picked in the first round.

There was surprise at No. 1 overall with the Cleveland Browns taking Baker Mayfield, then the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals moved up for Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, respectively. Then the Baltimore Ravens capped things by trading back into the first round to take Lamar Jackson.

There were some other shockers in the back half of the first round, including Terrell Edmunds going to Pittsburgh at No. 28 and Rashaad Penny getting picked 27th by Seattle.

The quarterbacks, and those trades, though, will define the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. One of the bigger moves was New Orleans giving up a 2019 first-round pick to move from No. 27 to 14 to take pass rusher Marcus Davenport. Does the move make the grade? Here are the way too early grades for the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft:

1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Some Browns fans may be wary, but this isn’t Johnny Manziel 2.0. Is Mayfield against the norm as a quarterback just over 6’0 coming out of the Big 12? Sure. But Mayfield is confident and aggressive on the field and his teammates absolutely loved him at Oklahoma. Maybe we should have seen this pick coming. When the Browns hired John Dorsey as general manager, the first thought was that he was a Mayfield fan. When Dorsey added Scot McCloughan as a consultant, the same was said. Now it’s a reality in Cleveland.

The key to this pick for the Browns is catering the offense to Mayfield’s strengths. Head coach Hue Jackson showed last season that he’s not willing to do so for a rookie quarterback. There is risk with this selection, but that can be said with any of the top quarterbacks. The difference for the Browns is that they picked first.

Grade: B+

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

If the Giants truly want to win now and not pick this high again in the near future, Barkley was the smart choice. He can get New York wins right now thanks to his all-around skill as a running back and receiver. He can do it all. He also takes some of the pressure off Eli Manning, and some of the headlines away from Odell Beckham Jr. New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said he wanted a Hall of Fame player with this pick. He may have just got one.

The issue with taking Barkley with this high is the positional value of a running back, and the general depth of the position in the draft this year.

Grade: A-

3. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California

When the Browns passed on Darnold, this became the obvious choice for the Jets. After the failed moves with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, the Jets can have their franchise signal caller in Darnold.

Darnold’s flaws are obvious. He has to figure out his turnover issues — both fumbling and throwing interceptions — but he’s good at throwing his receivers open and he’s unflappable. Now it’s up to the Jets to surround him with talent and a good offensive line in the coming years.

Grade: B+

4. Cleveland Browns: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward is without question the best cornerback in this draft. But is he good enough to be the fourth overall pick? And with Bradley Chubb still available? That’s a little hard to get over. From a storyline standpoint, though, it’s great. Ward played at Nordonia High School, which is about a half hour away from the Browns’ practice facility. Suffice to say, he’ll have fans in Cleveland. Cornerback is also a position the Browns needed to target, even after signing T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines in free agency.

Grade: B

5. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State

Chubb and Von Miller getting after the passer on the same defense. Good luck to the AFC West’s quarterbacks. It was a surprise that Chubb was still available with this choice. If you look at the recent history of the Broncos, they’ve been a team that prefers to have a stacked defense. Adding Chubb goes a long way in doing so. He’s a player who is just as good against the run as he is rushing the passer.

At some point, though, the Broncos have to figure out their quarterback of the future, even after signing Case Keenum. They also have to fix their offensive line. Maybe that can happen later in the draft.

Grade: A-

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

It’s been said all along that if Chubb and Barkley were gone that Nelson was probably the smartest choice for the Colts. This is a pick about keeping Andrew Luck healthy. Nelson is considered by some as the draft’s best player and he can step right into the starting lineup. Nelson is a player who sets the depth of the pocket perfectly and doesn’t give up space. He’s a highlight reel guard, and that’s probably never been said about an interior offensive lineman before.

Grade: A+

7. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Somehow the Bills managed to move up from the 12th pick without having to give up their second first-round pick this year. In that regard, it’s a good move by general manager Brandon Beane. That alone bumps the grade up slightly.

However, taking Allen over Josh Rosen is a surprise. Allen has the tools, and fits the stereotypes you often hear about playing in a cold weather city like Buffalo. But he’s been an inaccurate passer throughout his career and needs to be coached up. Ultimately, if Allen becomes successful, it doesn’t matter what Buffalo gave up to get him and a lot of draftniks will have egg on their face.

Grade: D+

8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

The Bears came into the first round needing a leader and playmaker on defense. That’s what they get in Smith. He’s a fast and active linebacker who is just as comfortable flying around sideline-to-sideline as he is coming up in the box. He’s also capable of covering receivers. Basically, he can do just about everything. Smith is going to remind Bears fans of a better version of Lance Briggs. Three quarterbacks in the top seven made this possible for Chicago.

Grade: A

9. San Francisco 49ers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

If the Colts’ pick was about getting Luck upright, this one is about keeping Jimmy Garoppolo upright and helping him become the franchise player he looks like. McGlinchey could start his career on the right side, but Joe Staley turns 34 in August. McGlinchey could be his successor. However, very few saw him as being a top-10 player in this draft. This pick is about positional value. It’s questionable, but logical.

Grade: B-

10. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Josh Rosen is the best quarterback in this draft. Arizona was smart to go up from the 15th pick and get him. After Carson Palmer retired, the Cardinals brought in Sam Bradford, but he’s merely a stop gap for Rosen. He’s the most pure passer in this class, and he can pick apart all areas of the field. If you like the classic quarterback — which Palmer and Bradford are — Rosen is your guy.

The problem for Arizona is keeping the pocket clean for Rosen. He can get rattled at times when the pocket collapses, and Arizona’s line is shaky. This grade might go up if they can put some players in front of him.

Grade: A

11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Miami probably never thought Fitzpatrick would be available with the 11th pick. In that regard they got a little lucky. Sometimes that happens in the draft. The Dolphins are another team that needed a playmaker on defense. Fitzpatrick can do a little bit of everything. He was used a lot in the slot, but he’s good in single high coverage and he can come up against the run. This guy has everything you want in a star player.

Grade: A+

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

Don’t look at Vea’s size and just assume he’s just some big body gap plugger. Of course he’s good against the run. but he’s also very capable of rushing the passer.

After adding Beau Allen, Vinny Curry, and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Buccaneers have clearly prioritized fixing their defensive line. However, Derwin James was still available and fits a big need in Tampa. The value of Vea is good. James would have been a better choice.

Grade: C+

13. Washington: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

Washington probably would have loved to see Vea here, but Payne isn’t a bad fall back. He rejoins former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen in Washington and gives them a pair of excellent run stuffers. Payne is better than he’s getting credit for at creating pressure. This guy can come in straight away and help Washington’s run defense. Payne was the best defensive lineman for Washington and filled arguably the team’s biggest need. The NFC East features Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Jay Ajayi. Washington has a nice counter with Payne and Allen.

Grade: B+

14. New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA

The Saints gave up a first-round pick in next year’s draft to move up from No. 27 to 14 to get Davenport. It makes some sense because pass rush is the NFL’s most important position after a quarterback. Beyond Cameron Jordan, the Saints don’t have much of a pass rush. This obviously fills a need. However, this is a lot to give up for a raw player with a limited repertoire. This is a move to make a Super Bowl run this season.

Grade: C+

15. Oakland Raiders: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

Obviously left tackle is a premier position, and there’s no question that Miller is properly suited to man the left. He’s a good athlete who was often compared to Nate Solder of the New York Giants. The question is about how fast he’ll be ready to go. Miller has to play stronger and faster, but the tools are there. Donald Penn just turned 35 this week, so it was obvious the Raiders needed to get a tackle. Miller is just an unrefined athlete who needs to be coached up. Can line coach Tom Cable do in Oakland what he struggled to do in Seattle the past few seasons?

Grade: C-

16. Buffalo Bills: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

After quarterback, Buffalo’s biggest early need in the draft was a linebacker. Edmunds — who, if you haven’t heard, is only 19 — can play on the outside or inside in Buffalo. At this point, Edmunds is more athlete than football player. If he can become a little meaner on the field, he has the pure size, length and athleticism to become a star.

Grade: B+

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, S, Florida State

The Chargers got a star in James. He can do anything you want on defense. He’s a safety. He’s a linebacker. He can cover. He can blitz. On ESPN’s broadcast, former NFL executive Louis Riddick compared James to Sean Taylor, a comparison that no one will ever make. That should tell you how good James is expected to be. The Chargers now have one of the more loaded secondaries in the NFL.

Grade: A

18. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

The Packers basically moved back from the 14th to 18th pick while adding a first-round pick in the 2019 draft. That gives the grade a little bit of a bump for new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. In Alexander, they get a player who would have made sense with the 14th selection. The Packers need a cornerback, and Alexander is arguably the best cornerback after Ward. Injuries knocked him a little bit, but he can go get the football. If he can stay healthy, Alexander can finally end Green Bay’s quest for a cornerback.

Grade: A-

19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

A lot of people expected all along that if Vander Esch was available at No. 19 that he would be the pick for the Cowboys. Vander Esch is a great athlete who can patrol the middle of Dallas’ defense. He’s an asset in coverage with his ability to read the quarterback and make a break on the ball. A trio of Vander Esch, Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith is an imposing and athletic trio for the Cowboys. But does he make a bigger impact than a wide receiver like Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore would?

Grade: B

20. Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas

One of the first things that new Lions head coach Matt Patricia said after getting the job in Detroit was that he likes to build from the inside out. He stayed true to his word, just not how people expected.

All along, the thought was this would be a defensive tackle. Patricia flipped it and went with the rugged Arkansas center. When he’s healthy, Ragnow can dominate up front. Still, the Lions need help on the other side of the ball.

Grade: B-

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State

Although the Bengals wanted to take Ragnow, Price is the better player. He’s a mean and nasty interior blocker who moves defensive linemen around with ease. The issue is whether or not he’ll be healthy at the start of training camp after tearing his pectoral at the NFL Scouting Combine. If he’s not healthy, it’s a gamble and you hope he doesn’t miss some regular season time.

Grade: B+

22. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

The Titans made a ballsy move getting ahead of the New England Patriots to take Evans. The Titans needed to either get an edge player or a middle linebacker. They sort of get both in Evans. He played a lot on the outside at Alabama and has the physicality to play the middle. Evans is an instant starter for the Titans, and they didn’t have to give up much to get him, surrendering the 125th pick while also getting the 215th in return. New Titans head coach Mike Vrabel will know how to utilize Evans.

Grade: A-

23. New England Patriots: Isaiah Wynn, G/OT, Georgia

With Lamar Jackson and some playmakers at cornerback and wide receiver on the board, the Patriots could have gone dynamic. But as expected, Bill Belichick went the opposite direction of what everyone thinks to take Wynn. Arguably the best blocker in the SEC last season, Wynn can play at guard or tackle for the Patriots. He should push for the starting left tackle job in New England. In a vacuum, that is quite the statement.

Grade: A

24. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

The Panthers have needed to get a lead wide out after dumping Steve Smith, so they went ahead and got the receiver who was frequently compared to him in Moore. The Big Ten’s best wide receiver last season gives the Panthers a legit No. 1 receiver who has speed and physicality to his game. The Panthers were fortunate there was a slide on the wide receivers in the first round.

Carolina could have used a defensive back, but this choice makes sense. Giving Cam Newton a playmaker is a scary proposition.

Grade: A

25. Baltimore Ravens: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

Baltimore has been linked to Hurst for much of the lead up to the draft. The Ravens moved back twice in the first round and still got the player they probably wanted the whole time. But was it a good pick? Hurst is a talented and physical tight end, but I rate him behind the other top tight ends. That’s partially due to his age. But he’s a player the Ravens needed after loading up on veteran wide receivers.

Grade: B-

26. Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Almost no one expected Ridley to be available with the 26th pick. He is the best wide receiver in this draft. With Julio Jones occupying the opposing team’s top cornerback, Ridley should get open with ease in the NFL. He’s at worst a high, high end No. 2 target. He’s ready to go as a route runner, and has good hands.

Grade: B+

27. Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Let me preface this by saying the last time I gave the Seahawks a bad draft grade it was the year they took Russell Wilson. Penny was one of the biggest surprise choices of the first round. It wasn’t truly a stunner that the Seahawks picked a running back. But to pass on Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Derrius Guice for Penny was unexpected. You can argue scheme fit, and maybe Penny will be a superstar and the new Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. It just seems like he could’ve been had later in the draft. At least he wasn’t the choice at No. 18 and the Seahawks were able to get a pick on the draft’s second day.

Grade: D+

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech

If Penny wasn’t the surprise pick of the first round, that honor goes to Edmunds going to Pittsburgh. No one anywhere saw this pick coming. Edmunds checks off needs for the Steelers. He’s capable of coming up and being the athletic linebacker the Steelers need, and he’s solid as a traditional safety who can play the run and drop in coverage. The expectation, though, is that Edmunds could’ve been had on the second day of the draft.

Grade: D

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida

After everyone expected the Jaguars to take an interior offensive lineman, they were probably surprised to see Bryan still available. With Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson, taking Bryan was something of a luxury choice. But if they’re looking for a player to eventually replace Calais Campbell on the outside, Bryan could get looked at there. The Jaguars added talent to arguably their biggest strength area.

Grade: B-

30. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

Terence Newman is not immortal, and this pick by the Vikings proves it. The replacement for the 39-year-old corner is Hughes, a physical and aggressive cornerback. Hughes is crafty and will pull on a receiver when a referee isn’t looking to disrupt route timing. He’s also capable as a return man. On the field, Hughes has few flaws. Off it, he’s full of questions and the Vikings’ coaching staff may need to keep on him. And as good as this pick is, a guard like Will Hernandez of UTEP would have been even better.

Grade: B

31. New England Patriots: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Why did the NFL let the Patriots get this type of weapon on offense? The Patriots now have a lead running back in Michel and the rest of the NFL should look out. Michel is a fast back with wiggle who plays with more power than you may think. He can also catch the ball out fo the backfield. In other words, he’s exactly what you’d describe out of a Patriots running back. The issue is Michel’s health, and his knee in particular. Some wondered if he can get a second contract with the team that drafts him.

Grade: B+

32. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The Ravens moved all around the first round and general manager Ozzie Newsome’s last draft ended with a future franchise quarterback. A former Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson can be a star in the NFL with his big arm and natural playmaking ability. The question about Joe Flacco’s eliteness has now been officially answered.

Grade: A